PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Senate Bill 401, which concerns mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes, has been discussed all day in the Oregon Senate.
The bill aims to dismantle Measure 11, or the “tough on crime” law, which requires mandatory minimum sentences for a number of violent and deadly crimes. Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 11 — twice. The first time in 1994 and again in 2000.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt is in favor of repealing the measure — but former Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis and Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton want to see the measure kept in place.
Schmidt testified in favor of the bill on Tuesday saying it was “tremendously important,” and is possibly the most important public safety bill in recent memory.
“For all of its importance, it is an incredibly easy bill to explain. It simply returns control over sentencing to judges,” he said. “They’re free to impose a harsher sentence when the circumstances require it, and a more lenient sentence when the defendant is deserving. They are free to treat these cases, in other words, the same way they treat all others – by weighing the facts, hearing from both sides, and making a fair and reasoned decision – the thing that they, and not we, were elected to do.”
He continued on to say Measure 11 was first implemented in a different era — one when many misguided practices had a heavy hand in the justice system
“In the 27 years that have followed the passage of Ballot Measure 11, we have learned much about what works in criminal justice,” Schmidt said. “We’ve become educated about the troubling racial and ethnic disparities that occur at every level of our system, from policing to sentencing. We’ve learned that much of what we believed was true nearly three decades ago was not only untrue but actively harmful, creating deep systems of inequity that we are still wrestling with today.”
Back in February — in the first public hearing on what was then a House Bill — strong opinions on both sides of the issue were heard. Some people believe modifying Measure 11 is an important step in making the justice system fairer toward minority communities.
However, in a joint statement, the DAs from Multnomah, Deschutes and Wasco counties explained they could not support HB 2002 at this time.
“While we do have concerns with some aspects of the bill as written and are unable to support it at this time, we look forward to working with the proponents to work to resolve these concerns.”
Many people who spoke said Measure 11, which Oregon voters approved twice, originally in 1994, is an important tool to keep violent offenders off the streets.
“If we’re looking at it from a numbers perspective, [part of] my husband’s 10 year manslaughter one charge would be reduced to five years, possibly four,” said a woman named Angela we spoke with whose ex-husband killed her infant child several years ago. “So they are telling me that my child’s life was worth four years.”
Washington County DA Barton echoed Angela’s sentiments saying he wants people to think about the crime victims.
“When I think about Measure 11 and I think about what benefit does this provide to our community, I urge you to think about the crime victims, the ones that come into my lobby wondering, ‘Am I going to be protected?’” Barton said.
SB 401 is one of four measures currently in play during the current virtual legislative session.